Chapter 16: The Argument
We walked for hours before slowing our pace. No one wanted to admit it, but I think we all wanted to be sure we had truly left the city and its curse behind before allowing ourselves to relax. We barely spoke as we walked. Rick occasionally provided directions on the quickest way out of town and onto the highway. I knew his knowledge of the area was more useful than our outdated map, so until we were on the highway proper I didn’t even suggest checking our map.
Safely out of the ruins of Denver, we stepped off the road and set up camp using pilfered shower curtains and blankets as tents. That first night we all felt felt the enormity of what we had learned and done. There had been something comforting and lethargic when we had been in that hospital. We had only been there for two short weeks, but we had each been considering staying there indefinitely. It had been our first bastion of stability since the world had gone to hell. We were comfortable and content there, even Rick’s despair had seemed muted in that place.
Now, I sat on one of our packs and watched over Rick’s sleeping form. As soon as we had stopped walking, he had laid down on of our stolen blankets and immediately fell asleep. I guessed he had collapsed from the sheer stress of the day’s events. Discovering that your wife was likely a walking corpse or worse was hardly an easy position to be in. Immediately following such terrible news, he had been forced to decide whether to risk your life and stay or to search for them elsewhere before condemning yourself to such a fate. It would be enough to break anyone.
Hours fleeing the city with a head likely full of doubts and regret, it had finally been too much. For now, I let him sleep. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t even sure I could fall asleep after having a bed for so long, even if it had been an uncomfortable hospital bed.
Bobbi, on the other hand, seemed full of energy. She paced the camp restlessly. If not for the coma-like state of sleep that Rick had slipped into, I would have feared she would wake him. Instead I kept my own council and thought my own thoughts. It was easier than listening to her rant about the indignity and injustice of this whole situation. I ignored her for nearly an hour before I reached my breaking point and she seemed no closer to hers. Finally I looked up and snapped at her. “And what good does all this bitching do?”
Bobbi stopped dead in her tracks and turned to me, a cold burning anger glinting in her eyes. “If I don’ say nothin’ than ‘owin the hell is anythin’ gonna change?” I couldn’t remember ever seeing her this angry. This was a righteous indignation, an anger fueled by justified frustration and was far stronger than her previous bouts of rage. I noticed that her accent had grown stronger and thicker as she grew angrier, beginning to sound more like an angry hooligan than someone ripped from BBC news. “Non‘a this makes any sense! Birds tha’ used ta be planes! Monsters tha’ used ta be people! A city tha’ kills ya! What th’hell is going on?” Her voice grew louder and louder, prompting me to look down at Rick. Fortunately, he had barely stirred during her tirade.
“Quiet down Bobbi.” I gave her a stern glare, hoping it looked enough like my mother’s glare to have the desired effect. The sharp edge to my voice wasn’t quite intended, but it certainly didn’t hurt. “I know. Trust me, I get it. I was standing right next to you for all that, wasn’t I?” I pointed up. “I’d even add the damned sun and all this crazy time insanity to your list. This shit is unbelievable and damned frightening. No shit! But what do you hope to gain by shouting all this to the heavens?” I paused for breath, which Bobbi took as an opening.
“Well, we’ve jus’ been avoidin’ this shit! Plane to bird, let’s not talk about it. One’a us turns in’ta cannibal beastie? Jus’ keep movin’, don’ open your mouth. Dead people treatin’ me like shite? Hush now, don’ wanna make ‘im mad.” With every other line, she would strike a condescending posture and waved her finger at me, in what I assumed was supposed to be some sort of mockery of me. “Jus’ whut th’ hell’s going on? Why aren’ we talkin’ about it?”
“Because I don’t want to, okay!?!” I blurted it out, nearly at the top of my lungs in a fit of anger. I stopped to take a deep breath to compose myself, a moment that Bobbi was too stunned to take advantage. I sat in silence and stared at Rick in his tent, who’s only response was to grumble and roll over.
After a moment, I regained my composure enough to look back at my pink-haired companion. I looked her over, for the first time in days, and noticed that the barest of roots had begun to peak through her shockingly bright hair to reveal a layer of sandy brown buried in the depths of that sea of bubblegum. I finally realized just how long it had been, nearly a month, since that fateful crash. Days of walking already behind us and weeks more before us before I would see home.
I realized that I didn’t even know Bobbi’s last name, or where she lived, or anything beyond the brash and determined façade that she erected around herself. Weeks had passed, time had marched along (no matter how convoluted its path had become), and we barely knew each other. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly before I finally spoke.
“I’m sorry, Bobbi. Things are going nuts. The world is falling apart around us and there’s nothing that we can do about it. That scares me, and I think it scares you too. You hide it behind a mask of anger, maybe even from yourself, but we’re all scared.” I leaned forward and started to stand. “I find it easier to keep moving if I don’t think about how insane and impossible things have become for us, but that’s not always the best way to handle things. We should be working towards our goals together, in the way that’s best for all of us. Especially now. Rick’s lost everything. He’s really hurting. I don’t know how to soothe that hurt, especially now that we’ve asked him to put aside his own desires for now, even if we think we’re doing what’s best for him…” I trailed off and glanced again at Rick. I saw Bobbi’s mask soften, ever so slightly.
Bobbi didn’t even look up when she finally responded. “This isn’t done. We’re going to figure out what the hell is going on and we’re going to stop ignoring all the insanity.” It sounded like a threat, but I knew that it wasn’t as simple as that. She wanted to make sense of all of this, and so did I. We would doubtlessly find crazier things as we went, but we had no way of knowing just what that would be. If we didn’t start talking about things, eventually we’d simply become part of the background; reacting to the strangeness, rather than acting in spite of it.
My only response was a simple nod and a murmured, “Okay.” Satisfied, I sat back down in our little camp and pulled out the map. I searched its pages for some sign of a pathway that would lead us northeast to Minnesota. The nagging voice in the back of my head returned, reminding me that there was no guarantee that there would be anything left when we reached our destination.
I realized that was the wonder of a human mind. I was convinced we would find something to do when we got there. If I was lucky this whole crisis would prove to be local, something that only affected the mountains or something. I didn’t believe that, and I was the one that conceived the idea. I convinced myself of something I doubted would prove true.
I looked up as Bobbi wandered close. She only nodded an acknowledgement before proceeding to her own backpack and dug around within it. I idly watched as she pulled a small package of crackers and a water bottle from within the bag, both taken from the kitchen storerooms of the hospital as we dashed from the building. She walked over and wedged herself against a rock where she could keep an eye on Rick as he slept. I smiled, said nothing and turned back to the map.
Using a pen, also taken from the hospital, I traced lines across the map, trying to approximate the interstate highways I knew were there, so we could keep track of roughly where they were. Sadly, the map itself was too old to list most of them. Then, using a darker line, I attempted to sketch a rough path for us to follow using the highways and interstates when possible. I was fairly certain most roads along our route would not have changed much since the 60s. I made a mental note to stop at the first gas station or rest stop along the way to grab a more recent map, but this would do for now. All that remained was to wait until Rick awakened and we would keep moving, onward and upward. Or something like that…